Updated: Jan 2
A high-energy eating strategy guide
Smoothies have been a core part of my eating routine for decades. At the bottom of this article is my long-time, ever-evolving smoothie recipe. I came onto this after reading the book Fit For Life, by Harvey Diamond and Marilyn Diamond. They present a fitness-oriented, energy-enabling eating strategy that emphasizes managing our high-energy cost digestive system. As I understand it, the digestive system is the biggest user of energy in our body. As such, to get more free energy one should decrease the cost of digestion. As an extreme case, think of how you feel after a big Thanksgiving meal, where a higher than normal volume of turkey and potatoes may be eaten. You may feel pretty run down and ready to lay on the couch. This is a HIGH energy cost meal. In recent years, neuroscientists regularly explore the causal link between our digestive system and the extraordinary evolution of the human brain. (1)
While the Diamond's present many strategies and good diet information, the following two strategies have become a habit for me:
Do not mix carbs and proteins. The enzymes your digestive system uses to digest each of these food types are different, and they are counterproductive. It may take 8x the energy to digest a protein/carbohydrate mixed meal, then a non-mixed meal. So, in the context of energy maximization:
more ok --> either a) chicken, salad, and veggies OR b) a baked potato and black beans, but
not so ok --> to have a steak and potatoes.
Only eat fruit or highly digestible foods before lunch. This has to do with your digestive rhythms and the sensitivity of your digestive system in the morning. As such, I have become a big smoothie drinker!
As a result of these high-energy eating habits, I have become more conscious of how foods mix and the nutritional value of foods. As such, I tend to stay away from bread and other carbs with low nutritional value. I also tend to focus more on lean proteins, non-animal proteins, fruits, and veggies. Fatty meats, especially beef, tend to have a high digestion tax.
Over time, these strategies have become a guiding principle. Meaning, I do not always strictly follow these strategies, but I do most of the time and it seems to work! At 55, I feel fit, have good general health, and have good energy levels. My brain is strong and it supports my almost insatiable curiosity. (2) Pictured next is my oldest son, Josh, and I at Chimney Top in West Virginia. We are halfway through a 7 mile, 2,000-foot elevation hike and climb. Exercise is a key component of keeping your metabolism high and efficiently managing your caloric intake.
In case interested, below is my Favorite Smoothie Recipe. It has been evolving for about 20 years!
Enjoy and I hope these high-energy food strategies are helpful!
Frozen berries (or other pre-cut fruit) from Costco.
Low sugar orange juice, fortified with vitamin D and calcium
Whey protein powder
Greek yogurt (plain preferred but vanilla ok for more sweetness)
Put frozen fruit in blender about 1/3 full, depending on how hungry you are.
Pour in the same volume of hot tap water, leave until the heat transfers. Pro Tip: Defrosting fruit will save your blender!
Pour in the OJ to taste based on the desired smoothie thickness. I usually go a little above the level of the fruit.
Add a scoop of chia first to give time for seeds to absorb the OJ.
1 teaspoon of Turmeric (Turmeric is bitter, so adjust to taste)
3 tablespoons of Greek yogurt,
3 heaping tablespoons of protein,
10-15 spinach leaves,
Adjust to taste and your desired protein intake. Between Greek yogurt and protein powder, I get about 50g’s of protein. By the way, the most important is that the smoothie tastes good. I’m not a big fan of sugars, but if a little extra sugar helps you get started, then so be it. You can slowly adjust down the sugar content over time. (I call slowly improving your healthy habits, like reducing sugars, “Boiling Your Own Frog.” The faster the better, but it is a personal balancing act.)
Enjoy the healthy feeling!
Fiber (Spinach, banana, chia)
Vitamins and minerals (Spinach, OJ, fruit, banana)
Harder to acquire Vitamins B and D (OJ, berries)
Easy digestion protein (Greek yogurt, whey powder)
Gut health/probiotics (Greek yogurt)
Heart health / Omega 3 (Chia seeds)
Anti-oxidant capacity - (Turmeric, spinach)
Top 6 list - "Boil Your Own Frog" and other high-energy eating habits summary:
Do not mix carbs and proteins.
Only eat fruit or highly digestible foods before lunch.
Put your calories to work with high nutritional value.
Exercise often, however you can.
Reduce your sugar intake and improve other healthy habits by "Boiling Your Own Frog."
Adjust your mindset to "Eat to Live" from "Live to Eat." This mindset reinforces healthy habits.
(1) Neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel believes the human brain evolved to become dense with about 86 billion neurons because of our ability to cook. In effect, our digestive system via efficient food to energy conversion supports the human brain's relatively high energy costs as compared to other mammals. Efficient food to energy conversion enabled the human brain to evolve faster and with its special cognitive capabilities. Please see her Ted Talk, What Is So Special About The Human Brain. As such, driving energy efficiency via eating habits as presented in this article is consistent with our successful evolutionary history.
"So what is the human advantage? What is it that we have that no other animal has? My answer is that we have the largest number of neurons in the cerebral cortex, and I think that's the simplest explanation for our remarkable cognitive abilities. And what is it that we do that no other animal does, and which I believe was fundamental to allow us to reach that large, largest number of neurons in the cortex? In two words, we cook. No other animal cooks its food. Only humans do. And I think that's how we got to become human."
(2) Jeffrey Hulett, Curiosity Exploration - An evolutionary approach to lifelong learning