Why the Standard American Diet Causes Fatigue
As I sit here sifting through my athlete’s food journals, I notice one pervasive theme: a heavy reliance on processed foods.
Over and over I see cereal, pasta, sandwiches, gummy bears, etc. all consumed in a day’s time. It makes me think back to my high school and college days as an athlete where my food journal looked the same, possibly worse. (I once thought Mountain Dew with a side of Pop-Tarts was a breakfast of Champions during two-a-day swim practice. Needless to say, I am lucky my organs are still functioning today).
Knowing what I know now, it is beyond obvious why the standard American diet causes fatigue and why there is a HUGE need for functional sports nutrition.
Growing up as an athlete and through my schooling in college, I frequently heard all kinds of messages like, “Just count your calories, as long as your macronutrient needs (AKA carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) are met, it really doesn’t matter what you eat!”
“You are so active, you can eat whatever you want. You’ll just burn it off!”, or my all-time favorite, “ You just need to carb load before your race, and you will feel great!”.
If only I had known then what I know now. Unfortunately, though those “words of wisdom” sound pretty good, none of that information is correct. Our bodies are such intricate and sensitive machines.
As you may remember or want to check out from our previous post on food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies, the vast majority of our immune system resides in our gut. This is precisely why it matters so much what you choose to eat every day, ESPECIALLY if you have any intention of improving your health and performance.
We also know now that the food we eat has the ability to alter gene expression.
Simply put, eating well or eating poorly can directly affect our health for better or worse as we go through life. For example, you may have a family history of a certain disease, but that does not necessarily mean you will develop that disease, even if you are a carrier for the gene. Our food and our environment play a large role in what genes decide to express themselves as we age.
Keep in mind that disease is typically the end product of chronic inflammation as well as chronic stress on the immune system. So, by jumping off the processed food bandwagon only to cruise on the whole food and functional sports nutrition train, you may be able to prevent major illness and associated stress before it ever begins.
When we start to feel poorly, and that feeling does not subside, we tend to blame everything else on the planet but food and lifestyle. Then what comes next? We quickly jump to medications and surgery.
Going forward, I’d like to challenge you. Try a food first approach and dig to the root of the issue instead of slapping a “band-aid” on the symptoms! What will happen if you continue the same lifestyle and eating habits? They will likely later explode down the road in a variety of other symptoms with an “unknown cause”.
Too good to be true? I’m going to show a few examples.
Using a whole-food, functional sports nutrition approach while removing some of the most inflammatory foods combined with suspected food sensitivity triggers for my private clients, I see success after success. I’ve been practicing this way for years and see life-changing results time after time but here are just a few awesome examples from just the last 3 months:
- A 26-year-old male who was told bowel reconstruction surgery for his diagnosis of Crohn’s disease was the only option in order to experience relief. He no longer needs surgery after if symptoms have been minimized and all of his medication dosages have been cut in half.
- A 10-year-old hockey star suffered from chronic DAILY migraines and GI distress. After 9 years, his symptoms are completely gone.
- A 78-year-old female dealing with chronic knee pain since early childhood. After years of surgery and medication, the only thing that completely rid her of pain? A diet change.
- A 16-year-old female tennis player with rosacea that flared each day during practice. We removed the top 8 food allergens and she has not experienced symptoms since.
I could go on and on with testimonials over the years but I think you are catching my drift. We need to stop underestimating the power of real food. Trust me, I used to think all of this whole food talk was “voodoo”.
However, after years of being in the trenches interpreting test results, studying food journals and associated symptoms, and actually listening intently to my athletes as well as chronically ill patients, I started to change my tune. I promise you, with the right help and a solid nutrition foundation, you will feel amazing and jump on board too.
Once you start to slowly make changes to the way that you eat, and you begin to notice the immediate impact on your symptoms and energy, it will be harder than you think to go back to a life of processed foods. Please keep in mind, making the switch to eating real food is not as overwhelming as most people make it out to be. Here are a few simple ways you can start today.
Let’s start with breakfast. Cereal is an American breakfast staple. It tastes great and it’s convenient. What’s not to love, right?!
Wrong. Starting your day off with a processed starch that is low in protein, vitamins or minerals, and contains virtually zero grams of plant-based fat is not beneficial to energy or blood sugar.
Have you ever noticed that you are ready to eat again an hour later after scarfing down a bowl of cereal? (Doesn’t count if you’re the person who inhales a mixing bowl full of cereal!) This happens because foods like cereal digest very quickly, thus causing a rise in blood sugar that your body them compensates for leading to a severe drop in blood sugar Then we experience signals of hunger produced in our brain to get blood sugar back to a stable lever.
Compare this a slow steady release of energy from a more balanced meal with healthy fats, which leaves you full for hours without any sudden crash or fatigue from a drop in blood sugar. So how do we fix this problem without spending hours in the kitchen?
Overnight oats! Check out my simple recipe that I use with all of my athletes including the pros.
KB’s PB & J Overnight Oats
This is an amazingly tasty overnight oats recipe that packs flavor AND protein for keeping the active individual fueled for success. Simple to make and easy to eat cold or heat up and eat quickly in the morning, this is a favorite for everyone from elite athletes to busy parents.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 TBSP chia seeds
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 2 TBSP favorite nut butter
- 1 TBSP organic strawberry jam
- 30 g scoop of your favorite protein powder (This will be 1-2 scoops depending on brand). I use Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant Based Protein (Vanilla)
In one medium size mixing bowl:
Add all ingredients
Stir for 1-3 minutes until a mostly consistent mixture is created.
Then cover and place in the fridge to rest overnight.
Wake up, give a quick stir once more, and enjoy a balance breakfast hot or cold!
If you want to learn more about this amazing recipe and a steel cut oats version, check out our post Tasty Basic Overnight Oats Recipe (and Overnight Steel Cut Oats Recipe!)
ProTips: This recipe makes 2 servings and can sit in the fridge for about 3 days. I prefer to eat it cold but you can certainly warm it up.
Sandwiches are a fan favorite across the board because of the grab-and-go factor. BUT, yet again, with this option, we are riding the processed food train.
Plus, we are seeing an exponential rise in gluten and wheat intolerance in this country so having gluten and wheat daily probably is not the best idea (and no, this is not another fad diet, sorry for all the haters out there but that’s a conversation for another day.)
I have a suggestion that may blow your mind.
Did you know that you can thinly slice a raw sweet potato, place the slices into your toaster, then throw your favorite toppings on it as if it were a piece of bread? Eating fresh, unprocessed food doesn’t get any easier than this.
Thanks to blogger and Dietitian Nutritionist McKel Hill MS RDN you can see amazing examples of how its done here. If you still insist on devouring a traditional sandwich at lunch, can we compromise on Siete Almond or Coconut flour tortillas? Very minimal ingredients and processing, wheat free, and they are equally as convenient!
Pasta, pasta, pasta!
It’s cheap, it’s easy to prepare, and you can feed a large group of individuals within minutes, but yet again, it’s another meal consisting primarily of processed grains.
If you enjoy starch and you’d like dinner to be made quickly, consider using brown rice instead, as this option took fewer steps to get from the Earth to your plate. Add your favorite sauce, veggies and lean protein just as you would to a bowl of pasta. If you live your life on a time crunch like I do, check out this amazing rice/pressure cooker with a stainless steel pot. Plug it in, add your rice, go run an errand or get a great workout in and voila, the base of your dinner is serve. It works well for leftovers too.
Or, if you absolutely insist on making meals in 5 minutes or less, I encourage you to try Seeds of Change Organic Quinoa and Rice mixes. However, I encourage you to take the rice out of the package when heating it up on your stove top or in a glass dish in the microwave. Yes, there is some minimal processing with this product and it is not as great as taking raw rice and cooking it on your own and adding your own organic spices, but it is a few grades above manufactured bread!
See, eating minimally processed yet convenient food isn’t as hard as most people make it out to be. Hopefully, you are starting to see the light and if not, stay tuned. Whether its learning about the most powerful anti-oxidant supplement, foods that reduce inflammation, or the best protein powders, we have tons of great content to help you reach your optimal health.