As many of you know, I competed in an NPC bodybuilding show a week ago. The 16 weeks leading up to the show were incredible, and as always, I learned so much. Every time we compete, we become scientific experiments of cause and effect. The greatest bodybuilders are usually the smartest–to be successful, it’s important to understand how the body uses food. “If I eat _____, then my body responds by ________.” How cool is that? But this time, I came at it from a slightly new perspective. Those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning may recall an earlier post in which I explained why I took a break from bodybuilding, and what I had hoped to gain—and keep–by coming back. I think my most recent experiment has a lot to offer in terms of how we reconcile body recomposition with eating for overall health. Sometimes it seems like two different conversations, and I feel that I was successfully able to blend them.
Bodybuilding nutrition is often so focused on macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) that micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from food sources often get overlooked. Tired of knowing we weren’t as healthy as we could be, last fall my family took on an adventure—we wanted to go package-free, rely mostly on local produce, and find a more sustainable meat source. We did not want to continue consuming the pounds and pounds of chicken and overlooking the importance of fruits and vegetables. We went from a chicken-with-vegetables outlook, to a vegetables-with-chicken approach. In doing so, we eliminated our multivitamins and several supplements that we were taking. A year later, we are still maintaining our new lifestyle. In fact, we’re just getting better and better at it!
My decision to compete presented a problem—we knew how to use foods to manipulate my body, and we weren’t sure how our new lifestyle would fit into a bodybuilding contest preparation diet. With some adjustments, we continued right on as best we could and I actually benefitted greatly from the new approach. My meals were big, filling, and absolutely satisfying. Using a variety of vegetables, I was able to blend flavors and textures that transformed my boring chicken into amazing meals. Where before I would eat 4 ounces of chicken with a little bit of green beans, now I was eating mounds of vegetables with a little bit of chicken! I was also able to incorporate my green smoothies—a boring, watery protein shake was transformed into a very satisfying smoothie by adding half a cucumber, a cup of spinach, and some cinnamon!
The one question everyone kept asking me, and understandably so, was “what are you going to eat when you’re done?!” In my previous shows, I gave this a lot of thought. Oh my gosh did I think about it! I actually brought an entire cake to the restaurant after the show and dug in by myself with a spoon! The next year may or may not have involved gas station goodies for the entire 8 hour drive home…but this year I had a different plan for my recovery phase, so I found a gluten-free, vegan, no-sugar-added cake that I had planned to eat right after. But a funny thing happened—I found that I genuinely, after all of those weeks of dieting, really just wanted some fruit! Similarly, I didn’t have any big cheat meal planned for the days after the show. I had an eggplant on my kitchen counter that I was dying to cook—and so after an initial cheat meal (sushi!) and an omelette the next morning, the first thing I did was cook that eggplant!
Since then, I’ve had my cheat meals on Saturdays, but with the extra calories and macronutrients in my life, I’ve been mainly focused on having fun with the “clean” whole foods I already loved and grew to miss while dieting down. If I had to make a list of these foods, I would include coconut, nuts, quinoa, lentils, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, almond milk, and the variety of fruits and vegetables I use in my green smoothies. On a bodybuilding diet, everything you put in your body “counts,” so for instance, while kale is a great “clean” food and a nutritious green vegetable, a physique athlete must still be conscious of the fact that it contains three times the amount of carbohydrates and calories as other greens such as collards and mustard greens. It might now seem to matter much, but when you’re hungry it’s easy to eat three or four cups of sautéed kale at a time!
I have made so many awesome meals since my show! Among them has been a pasta-less lasagna, a fruit/nut “cookies”, a veggie saute/sauce that blew my mind, and a new post-workout protein bowl. Enjoy!
- 1 medium eggplant, sliced into ¼ in rounds
- 1 small container of fat-free ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 5-6 tomatoes
- carrots (the more the merrier, I say!)
- zucchini or yellow squash (or both!)
- onions (or onion powder—Mike hates onions)
- minced garlic
- fresh basil leaves (dried would work)
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tbsp olive oil
1. Lightly salt the eggplant slices and lay out on a towel for about 20 minutes. Lightly press another towel on top of the slices to absorb any excess water. This dries out the eggplant just a little and keeps it from getting slimy when you bake it.
2. Place the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. If you make a batch of this sauce ahead of time it is so much more flavorful! But in a pinch you can make it as needed.
3. Thoroughly mix egg and ricotta; set aside.
4. Lightly salt the eggplant slices and lay out on a towel for about 20 minutes. Lightly press another towel on top of the slices to absorb any excess water. This dries out the eggplant just a little and keeps it from getting slimy when you bake it.
5. Lightly grease (I use Pam) a large glass baking dish. Spoon a small amount of sauce into the pan to form a light coating. Lay down slices of eggplant, slightly overlapping, to create a single layer in the bottom of the dish. Spoon ricotta mix onto the eggplant; use the back of a spoon to spread evenly. Cover with a layer of spinach, and then add another layer of eggplant. Cover with the remaining sauce. If you prefer, you can cover this with a layer of mozzarella cheese before baking.
6. Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling at the sides.
Fig/Banana/Oat/Peanut Butter bars
- 6 large figs
- 1 large, very ripe banana
- 2 cups oats
- ½ cup natural peanut butter
- 1/3 cup coconut flakes (look for some with no added sugar!)
Mash the figs and banana until blended and in almost liquid form. Mix in oats, peanut butter, and coconut. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Cool in pan, and refrigerate. Serve when cool.
- ½ lb okra, sliced
- cherry tomatoes, halved
- yellow squash, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- onion powder
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat 1tbsp olive oil in pan; add garlic and heat for about a minute. Add vegetables, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Cook until squash has reduced in size and okra is soft. This will look like a slimy mess, but when I served it over mashed potatoes with baked chicken, my daughter fell in love with this flavorful “vegetable gravy”! Okra can get slimy, and this characteristic makes it ideal for soups and stews. Otherwise, people fry it or avoid it altogether because they don’t know how to avoid the slime. Embrace the slime in this saute!